Denver police officer suspended for arresting wrong person in DUI stop, then fired for lying about off-duty work

A Denver police officer arrested an innocent man because he failed to fully investigate a drunk driving incident, causing the man to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees to fight the charge.

Officer Ryan Okken on June 14 received a 40-day suspension for his failure in that incident, according to disciplinary records obtained by The Denver Post through a public records request. But Okken won’t have to serve the suspension because he was fired that same day for a separate infraction: lying about his off-duty work.

The wrongful arrest happened when Okken saw a vehicle traveling more than 80 mph down Speer Boulevard at 12:49 a.m. Sept. 27, 2020. He tried to stop the vehicle and found it stopped nearby after briefly losing sight of it. Okken said he saw the driver climb into the backseat of the stopped car, the disciplinary records show.

The man he believed to be the driver, who is not named in the disciplinary letter, smelled strongly of alcohol and slurred his speech. But the man and the two female passengers in the car all said the driver fled the vehicle after it was stopped.

The man did not have the keys to the car and the passengers showed Okken Polaroid photos from that night showing another man in the driver’s seat. But Okken didn’t believe the group and told them he knew they were lying, according to the disciplinary records.

Okken arrested the man after he refused to complete a roadside DUI test. Okken did not take any further steps to investigate the incident.

The man was charged with driving under the influence. He later had his charges dismissed because of a lack of evidence, but not before paying thousands of dollars in legal fees.

“I spent over $10,000 and lost countless hours of personal and work time trying to resolve Okken’s lies,” the man wrote in a complaint to Denver police, which is included in Okken’s disciplinary letter. “I have never even had a speeding ticket to my name, and have endured insurmountable hardships getting all of my life back to normal. His lies have ruined my faith in the Denver Police Department.”

Police later found a different man who had been driving the vehicle and determined he did flee the scene.

Mary Dulacki, chief deputy director of the Department of Safety, found that Okken’s actions and lack of investigation were unbecoming an officer because he jailed an innocent man after failing to conduct a thorough investigation.

“Though officers may appropriately question the credibility of suspects and witnesses, Officer Okken’s approach to the vehicle’s occupants reflected that he had made up his mind and that he would not consider any evidence contrary to his perception,” Dulacki wrote in the letter. “That approach was disrespectful and dismissive and substantially interfered with the department’s mission and professional image.”

Dulacki’s decision to fire Okken followed a year-long investigation into his off-duty work for a variety of event venues and security companies. Internal affairs investigators found that Okken was paid by the city for time he did not work and that he on dozens of occasions underreported the number of hours he was working off-duty to flout the department’s limits about off-duty work. During that time, Okken missed several court appearances.

Okken joined the Denver Police Department in 2017. He was previously disciplined in 2019 for failing to find a gun on an arrestee after conducting a search.

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